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Archive for June, 2008

I’ll buy ethically produced, organic and fairtrade products…

I’ll reuse and recycle…

I’ll reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can by patronising local products…

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I used to think they were always made from recycled paper. Partly because I wished they were as I had been using them like there was no tomorrow.

But the truth is, because of consumer demands for the softest products, it’s virgin fibres that mostly goes into loo rolls, facial tissues, kitchen towels, and table napkins. And after you’ve used them, they cannot go into the recycling bin (they’re considered hygienic wastes and can cause contamination). I know I had a bias for the soft, thick, really white ones.

Here’s a lowdown on the available statistics:

  • 270,000 trees are flushed down the toilet or end up as garbage every single day according to the WWF.
  • Every Briton flushes 17.6 kilos (39lb) of toilet paper down the lavatory every year, almost two and half times the European average, based on this article from the Telegraph.
  • The European average use is 11 kilos of tissue per year.
  • Each person in Britain uses 4,000 rolls of toilet paper in their lifetime.

And whether they all add up, the truth is we are using quite a lot. What to do? Tissue has been one of the most important products for personal hygiene. It’s hygienic, it’s convenient. I don’t think any modern household can completely do away with it. I’m certainly sure, I can’t go without it at the moment.

Of course, reducing my use is one way to go. I can take it seriously and follow Sheryl Crow’s advice of using “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”. But . . . hmmm . . . i’m imagining really messy hands. Maybe I won’t go as far as counting the squares just yet. But there are still plenty I could do:

  • after I’ve finished up the remaining pack of table napkins, switch to linen ones. sure, I had to wash them, which would cost the environment as well, but I am pretty sure they will go in with my weekly washing load. And linen table napkins just feel so decadent, doesn’t it?
  • I don’t keep facial tissues at home. I’ve always been used to cloth hankies. Again, they go in the weekly wash. Downside? Just yesterday in the train, i was sitting across a woman who accidentally sprayed herself wet as she opened her sparkling water bottle, I reached in my bag and realised I only got my (used) cloth hanky at hand, and I certainly can’t offer her that.
  • use rags more often around the home instead of kitchen towels. Rags are washable and can be reused over and over again. Though I would still keep a couple of rolls in the cupboard for emergencies, but hopefully they will last me for the rest of the year.

And then, there’s the loo rolls. WWF recommends we buy ones made from sustainable material, with high recycled content, and the not so white ones (as the bright white ones would have been bleached). WWF did a report ranking as to which among the major toilet paper manufacturers are most responsible. SCA (makers of Velvet) have ranked first in these charts. But note that they scored a mere 46% last 2005 in these rankings, quite a low score, I thought.

A recent trip to the groceries had me picking up a pack with the WWF logo stamped on it. On closer inspection at home, I didn’t find anything in the label that even claimed what percentage is recycled or where the materials were sourced from. Is the WWF allowing use of their logo to greenwash consumers now?

So, I set out to list what I should be looking for in the labels in loo rolls from now on:

  • amount of recycled content.
  • FSC certification to say product is from well managed sources. Not all recycled content are sourced responsibly.
  • unbleached, chlorine free. I had always been concerned about my health. And the less chemicals in products we have intimate contact with is surely better.

I was setting my heart on buying 100% recycled ones (dramatic choice of words, i know, but it is still shopping isn’t it?). But I had my second thoughts. Recycled paper does have it worries too. This article says “one German study in 1993 (that’s how far back we had to go to find data) suggested that there can be 10 to 100 times more toxic metal residues in recycled paper than in that made from virgin pulp.”

I’m now thinking, maybe paper isn’t the way to go. Organic cotton loo rolls anyone? I’ll let you know as soon as my first pack arrives in the post.

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time will tell

 Organic and Fairtrade Coffee

Several years ago, you wouldn’t notice any organic section in supermarkets. We recently have a lifestyle change and consumers are now choosing organic products among other things. Now, organic produce are everywhere from fruits and vegetables to processed foods. You can even visit organic farms and stay in organic accommodations. 

I grew up in an island in the Far East and have hands-on experience in vegetable gardening. At that time, pesticides are always a necessity. It was too impossible to grow vegetables in organic way. The hot and humid weather is always a good breeding ground for almost all species of pests from the juicy aphids to the crawly caterpillars who likes your pak choi patch. If you attempt to grow organically and your neighbours spray their pesticides, you will get an influx of surviving pests immediately migrating to your garden. 

Vegetables seemed to grow very quick if you have the right fertilisers. In school competitions, I was in a fertiliser computation contest in the late 1980s, quantifying the right amount of NPK (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium) required in your soil. Looking back, it was a strange thing but that was an era not too long ago where we were encouraged high yield for crops. Food is priority in third world countries and not how these foods are produced that is good for the environment and the life that evolves around it.

Organic goes back a long way in the 1500s when it doesn’t mean what it means today. Only in the 1940s that organic was attested to mean ‘free from pesticides and fertilisers.’ Our old farming ways are organic, when fertilisers have not reached the shores of the islands. Crop rotation is evident in rice fields, planting Nitrogen-rich green mung beans on dry season and rice during rainy days. 

It’s not at all easy growing organic and it’s not easy too being organic. But it seems that the world is moving in the right direction and certainly the West. As organic demand grows, we will need more certified organic farms. These farms will expand to supply us even more. Organic farming practice will become popular again and time will tell it will reach the shores of the islands. 

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Sometimes I do wonder if people will think it hypocritical – that we try to learn about eco-living without meaning to go the whole hog.

There is really something admirable in the stories of people abandoning modern conveniences to lead a sustainable life – the good life. Those who lobby for the rest of us so the laws could be changed. Those who made it their life to change and save the world. It would make you think they’re doing it for the rest of us who couldn’t get off our backside and do something.

But a good majority of us lead many lives, and priority goes to what puts food on the table or what makes us happy. And I guess, I am one of those people. But, I wanted to learn how I can do my bit. Without a drastic change to the way I live. Without feeling deprived of the niceties of life that I thought I deserve.

Maybe it’s better to do the little things than not to do anything. I care enough about what kind of future I leave my children to start doing something.

And sharing the things that we learn are really what guui is all about. It’s learning what needs to be done without blindly accepting what is commonly perceived as ‘good’. It’s not about being political. We accept that the government needs to do their bit. But, we can do so much more without the government’s bidding. It’s not about forcing people to do something, it’s about realising that everybody actually cares, most of us just don’t know that we can actualy do something or how important the issues really are. It’s about  voting with our money. Being a responsible consumer. Taking responsibility without sacrificing our standard of living.

It’s a small step at a time…until we make a habit out of caring…until doing these little bits become second nature. And keep doing more. It isn’t the good life. Nor is it all glamour and excesses. It’s the guui lifestyle.

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